A k-pop boyband and its music label have come under fire for Nazi-related lyrics and imagery in a newly released single and music video.
The eight-man South Korean pop group, EPEX, released their single "Anthem of Teen Spirit" on April 11 as part of their third EP, Prelude of Anxiety Chapter 1. '21st Century Boys.'
The song and accompanying music video themselves were received positively by many fans, with many on social media praising both new releases.
Others, however, took issue with the track, specifically lyrics referring to crystals such as "Crystal Night" and "The night in the crystal." This, to many, seemed to be referring to Kristallnacht, a defining moment in the Holocaust in November 1938 when Jews suffered a violent pogrom that saw the glass windows of their shops and homes shattered, which is where it gets its name.
This was made worse by a design choice in the video. The members of EPEX wore dark military-style outfits that bear a striking similarity to the uniforms that would be worn in a totalitarian, authoritarian regime – such as Nazi Germany.
Fan outcry was vocal and eventually, the music label, C9 Entertainment, issued a response.
In a statement shared over social media days later, C9 Entertainment apologized for the misunderstanding.
The uniforms worn by the members of EPEX were not meant to invoke similarities to the Nazis, though they were meant to invoke similarities to totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. This, C9 Entertainment explained, is because parts of the song, and the entire album, were heavily inspired by George Orwell's seminal book 1984, a fictional story in an alternate Earth that emphasizes the horrors of totalitarianism.
이펙스(EPEX)의 미니 3집 [불안의 서 챕터 1. 21세기 소년들]의 타이틀곡 <학원歌> 가사, 뮤직비디오 및 의상 관련 논란에 대한 당사의 입장입니다. pic.twitter.com/wcZF5XZHva— C9 Entertainment (@OfficialC9ent) April 13, 2022
The song is further meant to reference more contemporary issues, too.
"'Anthem of Teen Spirit' is a song that points out and warns of the harm caused by the robotized education system that Korean youths are experiencing," C9 Entertainment explained.
"'The night in the crystal' expresses the realistic life of teenagers, used as a metaphor for the images of children burning in competition in the windows of numerous academies that are lit up brightly like crystal every night, and another expression is from the 'glass paperweight' appearing in 1984.... It has absolutely nothing to do with actual historical events."
The label further argued that this was made evident from the name of the song, which literally translates to "Academy Song (Anthem of Teen Spirit)."
However, despite presenting the case, the label fully apologized for having "judged complacently" the expression as a metaphor and for not checking. As such, they announced that they would change several lyrics accordingly. "The night in the crystal" will become "Myself in the crystal." "Crystal Night" will become "Crystal Light."
This is not the first time a k-pop group has become embroiled in Holocaust-related controversy.
In November 2021, k-pop group PURPLE KISS sparked controversy when a picture circulated online of one of the members of the all-female group wearing a Nazi symbol.
The member in question, Goeun, was seen dressed in what was meant to resemble stereotypical fighter pilot attire. She wore a green top with US Air Force written above the shirt pocket. Underneath, however, was the Pateiadler, a stylized wing-spread eagle with the head facing left and a swastika clutched in its talons.
In February 2021, k-pop star Sowan of the group GFriend had to apologize after posting pictures to Instagram of her posing next to a mannequin in a Nazi uniform.
On both occasions, the labels behind them apologized.